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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Jaca Cathedral West Porch Tympanum

Santa Cruz de la Seros West Porch Tympanum

Jaca-Ext-GV-2-WPThe town of Jaca was a major way station of the Compostelan pilgrimage. The topography of its location proved beneficial in several ways. From early on, its surrounding area was one of the first enclaves providing shelter for those Christians who fled north from the Arab conquest, the original nub of what eventually became the powerful kingdom of Aragon.

Situated at the confluence of the Aragon and Gas rivers, Jaca was located on the old Roman road which connected Saragossa with France over the Somport Pass. Another road running westwards linked it to Pamplona and at Jaca the pilgrimage road makes a sharp turn westward towards Navarre to rejoin the the main Spanish road at Puente la Reina.

In the early medieval period it was merely the principal town in a region of shepherds and hill farmers. In the early ninth century it was controlled by a local aristocrat, Aznar Galindez who had formed protective alliances with Franks beyond the Somport. Jaca-Ext-GV-4-WPIt then came under the protection of the fledgling kingdom of Pamplona. On the occasion of the establishment of the new episcopal see of Aragon, the bishop of Pamplona made a donation  in 922, of a tract of land of some six hundred square kilometres between the Aurin and Gallego rivers. After this, the city began to develop an autonomous identity and became the principal residence of the count of Aragon.

Jaca-WP-C1-8-WPThis core territory began to expand gradually with the occasional land grabs from the Moors. Then, in the early eleventh century Jaca’s fortunes took an exponential surge upwards  as trade between Africa and Europe was revived via Pamplona, Narbonne and Jaca.

Sancho el Mayor established trade tariffs for the spices, fabrics, gold coin and silks that were passing northward and the pelts, cloth, metals and weaponry that was being transported to Africa via the Somport Pass.

JacaThirty kilometres from Jaca, a customs house was founded at Canfranc in the narrow gorge of the Rio Aragon, as it ran down from the Somport. In 1063 the city of Jaca was formally established by Sancho Ramirez and grants and fueros were given to encourage the settlement of a population who could add to the commercial prosperity of the town.

Sancho Ramirez further fortified Aragon’s status by placing himself as a vassal of Saint Peter after visiting Pope Alexander II in Rome. Benefiting from its customs rights, Saracen tribute payments and the ever increasing pilgrimage traffic, Jaca became a bustling frontier city and a grand new cathedral was commissioned.

Jaca-SP-Bal-2Reflecting Aragon’s new relationship with the pontifical see the cathedral was dedicated to San Pedro. Pilgrims venerated the relics of a virgin martyr of the Saracen oppression. Tradition held that Santa Eurosia had been forcibly betrothed to a Moorish military leader. Rather than succumb she had attempted to flee. On her capture her hands were amputated before her eventual decapitation. Her relics having been discovered by a shepherd were brought to Jaca on the instruction of Sancho Ramirez.

Jaca’s preeminence in the emerging kingdom of Aragon was limited by two factors. In the first place, strategic location as the point of passage between Europe and the south meant that it would remain a way station. Then, in 1098 the episcopal see was transferred to Huesca two years after its reconquest from the Moors and when Saragossa was ultimately captured in 1118, the focus of the expanded Aragon was shifting away from its initial Pyrenean focus.



Biblio: Canellas-Lopez A.- San Vicente A.‎ · ‎Aragon Roman Edition Zodiaque 1971. Collection la nuit des temps 35

At the beginning of Revelation an enthroned figure holds the Book of Life bound by the seven seals. Of those in attendance, neither the Four Living Beasts nor the Twenty-Four Elders of the Apoocalypse are deemed worthy to open the book.

Jaca-Tymp-6-WPThen a voice proclaims,“ Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book and to loose the seven seals thereof”.

The sculpture above the west entrance to the cathedral of Jaca, dated to around the year 1100, is possibly the earliest carved tympanum in Europe.

It differs radically from the figurative sculptural ensembles which emerged at Toulouse and Compostela by the nature of its deeply allegorical and quasi hieroglyphic style.

Two lions in heraldic pose are positioned either side of a Chrismon. The Jaca Chrismon is made up of the traditional P and X forms of the early Christian symbol with the addition of a cross, from which hang the Alpha and Omega of the Apocalypse. At the base of the cross is an S and in the eight spaces between the arms of the two crosses are flowers of eleven petals. All are enclosed within a wheel, so that the whole resembles a fiery sun, one of the earliest symbols of Death and Resurrection and a reminder that the Roman Emperor Constantine had worshipped the Sun god, Sol Invictus. The inscription around the wheel of the Chrismon describes it as an image of the Trinity.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-6-WPThe lion to the right has a ferocious aspect and holds its right paw over a bear while a basilisk is seemingly imprisoned beneath. In medieval bestiaries both animals symbolised Death. The basilisk was a hybrid creature, said to be born of a serpent’s egg and hatched by a cockerel. According to Pliny the Elder, anyone who looked at it fell dead on the spot. The adjacent inscription reads, “The strong lion is destroying the empire of Death”.

The lion to the left has a regal aspect and stands, without trampling, above a prostrate human figure holding a snake. The inscription reads, “The lion can spare the one prostrating himself and Christ, whosoever is penitent”.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-4-WPIt was medieval practice to hold prolonged liturgical rituals for penitents at Lent before the west entrance to a cathedral such as Jaca. An atrium or porch might provide shelter for the participants, encouraged to remain there for the whole forty-three days separating Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday.

The portal marked the threshold from which they were excluded until the purification had been completed and the carved reliefs of the tympanum provided the backdrop to the penitential liturgy.

Penance in medieval liturgical practice was related closely to Baptism. Both dealt with purging and purification.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-9-WPIn a seventh century Spanish Visigothic exorcism ritual performed as a preparatory to Baptism, a bishop would make three appeals to purge the catechumen, the third declaring that “The lion of Judah hath conquered”.

The symbolism of the carved tympanum is complex and multifarious. The two lions signifying simultaneously the dual aspect of Christ as Redeemer and Victor over Death and the Lion of Judah of Revelation revealing the Book of Life loosed of its seven seals, denoted here by the Chrismon.

The association made at Jaca between the Chrismon and the Book of Life was repeated further along the pilgrimage road, at San Miguel in Excelsis at Estella in Navarre. There, the tympanum sculpture of the Apocalypse presents Christ holding the Book of Life, which is adorned with the Chrismon.

Given Jaca’s long history as a beleaguered Christian enclave within Moorish Spain, the exceptional allegorical emphasis of the tympanum reliefs may have had roots in an awareness of the Islamic injunction against the portrayal of the human form, allied with an iconoclastic sensibility derived from Byzantium, itself a response to the first waves of Arab conquest in the east.

Sources: S.H. Caldwell, Penance, Baptism, Apocalypse: The Easter Context of Jaca’s west tympanum. Art History .3/1 (1980), 25-40

R. Bartal, The survival of early Christian symbols in 12th century Spain. Principe de Viana 48 (1987), S. 299-315

S. Moralejo-Alvarez, La sculpture romane de la cathedral de Jaca: Etat des questions. Les Cahiers de Saint-Michel de Cuxa (10): 79–106

‎Canellas-Lopez A.- San Vicente A.‎ · ‎Aragon Roman Edition Zodiaque 1971. Collection la nuit des temps 35

Huesca-Chrismon-2-WP Images of the Crucifixion are rare in large scale Romanesque sculptural ensembles. In the Church’s militant period of the Crusading era, a more triumphalist symbol was to be preferred. At many locations along the pilgrimage roads this was  rendered by depictions of the Apocalyptic Christ in Majesty  taken from the Book of Revelation.

In northern Spain, this was conveyed in the form of the Chrismon and is frequently found, most particularly in Aragon and to a lesser degree in Navarre.

Huesca-Chrismon-1-WPAt the  monastery of San Pedro el Viejo in Huesca, there are two large scale Chrismons. In each case the Chrismon is flanked by angels. The tympanum above the north door features the most striking and well executed of the two, featuring the Lamb of the Apocalypse in the centre. Above the south door which leading to the cloister, a second Chrismon, once more held aloft by a pair of angels is carved over a lintel depicting the Adoration of the Magi.

This arrangement echoed Roman funerary apotheosis imagery. The reuse of classical sarcophagi for medieval burial goes some way to explaining the repeated instances of such this form in Romanesque art.

Compostela-Chrismon WPA variation of this design was conceived whereby the flanking angels were replaced by lions producing new symbolic connotations. Such a scene is to be found on the central spandrel of the Puerta de la Platerias at Compostela.

In Aragon this arrangement was developed to a significant degree. On the tympanum of the bell tower porch at  San Martin de Uncastillo a lion to the right rears above a prostate human form and while the lion to the left dominates a serpent. The church of Navasa also has a tympanum with a Chrismon flanked by beasts, however the design is quite different. To the right an animal that resembles a wild boar has a bird perched on its back while to the left a man stands over a crouching lion.

Sta-Cruz-Chrismon-1-WPOn the  pilgrimage road itself, a short distance beyond Jaca, the royal convent church of Santa Cruz de la Seros also has tympanum made up of a Chrismon flanked by two lions. The letters of the monogram on the are not in their usual arrangement. The right hand lion stands over an eleven petalled marigold, while on the left the lion, tongue extended to lick its raised paw. Both lions are characterised by a ferocious demeanour.

The theme of lions is repeated in the capitals on either side of the porch with a depiction of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel was an antetype of Christ in medieval exegesis and the episode of the Lion’s Den an allegorical reference to the Resurrection. Sta-Cruz--Daniel-WPThe single marigold beneath the right hand lion alludes to the Eucharist, an association first proposed by the sixth century Poitevin writer Ventantius Fortunatus. Such an interpretation corresponds to the narrative of Daniel in the Lion’s Den wherein the prophet is aided by the Archangel Gabriel who sends Habbakuk to supply him with a loaf of bread. This also was considered an Old Testament antetype of the Eucharist and the separate elements of the story are present in one of the capitals of the west tympanum of the cathedral of San Pedro at Jaca where the most comprehensive representation of the theme of the Chrismon flanked by lions, is to be found and is very likely the original source for all the others.

Biblio: DL Simon,  L’art Roman, source de l’art Roman, Cahiers de St Michel de Cuxa 11 (1980) pp 249-67.

S.H. Caldwell, Penance, Baptism, Apocalypse: The Easter Context of Jaca’s west tympanum. Art History .3/1 (1980), 25-40

Honorius-Chrismon WPWhile it largely disappeared from Western European Christian art of the medieval period, the Chrismon continued to be used in Spain and its near ubiquitous presence in Romanesque Aragonese sculpture arises from a specific set of circumstances.

The Chrismon was first and foremost an adaptation of a Roman military standard called the Labarum. This was a standard topped with a draped banner surmounted by a Chrismon. In Christian legend it would be associated with the account by the historian Eusebius of the Roman Emperor Constantine’s victory at the battle of the Milvian bridge. Later, at the battle of Adrianople Constantine ordered it to be deployed to whichever part of the field his troops were struggling, such was its talismanic value.

A second Constantinian connection with the Chrismon arose from its function as a symbol of the Trinity, Constantine having presided over the formulation of the Trinitarian Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

In Spain, however, the Visigoths maintained the Arian heresy, denying the Trinity long after it was outlawed in the rest of Christendom. It took a further two hundred and sixty years before the Nicene creed was adopted at the Council of Toledo in 589. Presided over by King Reccared, a contemporary chronicler declared that at the council the king, “Like Constantine among the bishops of Nicaea, anathemitsed Arius”.


This must goes some way in explaining why the Chrismon appears to have held particular meaning  for late period Visigoths before the Arab invasion, appearing in numerous instances all over the peninsula.

The use of the Chrismon began to enjoy a ressurgence once more in Spain in the ninth century coinciding with the first period of the Reconquista. A Chrismon is to be found in the apse of the church of San Salvador de Valdedios built by Alfonso III in 893.

This followed a tradition which began with the first Christian victory against the Saracens at Covadonga in 722, when it was said that the leader of the small Christian force, Pelayo went into to battle under the banner of the Chrismon, in clear imitation of Constantine.

Whether this is true or not, the association was perpetuated by his heirs who forged the kingdom of Asturias in the wake of Pelayo’s victory. In 908 a gem encrusted cross said to be the original wooden cross which Pelayo had carried to victory was donated to the cathedral of Oviedo by his descendant King Alfonso III. Crucially this cross bore the inscription “By this sign you shall conquer your enemies”, which intentionally echoed Constantine’s motto for the Chrismon. Alfonso’s Victory Cross also bore the Alpha and Omega of the Apocalypse at each end of the horizontal arms, as did the Romanesque Chrismons of northern Spain.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-2-WPThus, the Spanish kings of the Reconquest saw themselves as the natural heirs of Constantine, victorious Christian rulers and defenders of the true faith. By the eleventh century the Chrismon was prevalent in the sculptural decor of Navarrese and Aragonese churches, the two kingdoms most associated with the early Reconquista and were particularly associated with royal establishments.

Sources: Canellas-Lopez A.- San Vicente A.‎ · ‎Aragon Roman Edition Zodiaque 1971. Collection la nuit des temps 35

R. Bartal, The survival of early Christian symbols in 12th century Spain. Principe de Viana 48 (1987), S. 299-315

puenta-la-reina-side2The practice of interventionist patronage established by Sancho el Mayor to encourage the development of the pilgrimage road was certainly a trend continued by his successors.

Sancho Ramirez who ruled Aragon from 1063-1094, (as well as Navarre from 1076), lifted the tolls on the Pamplona and Jaca roads for pilgrims and established the towns of Estella and Puente la Reina. The location of these towns helped to fix the route of the pilgrimage way definitively. The expansion of both towns was so rapid that by the time the Pilgrim’s Guide came to be written in the mid twelfth century, they were significant enough to be mentioned as way stations on the road. Estella came to rival Burgos as a centre of commercial activity.

Estella-Navarrese-Palce-1-WAs the floodgates of the Pyrenean passes opened in the twelfth century, foreigners from beyond the mountains were encouraged to settle the new towns which acquired distinctive quarters inhabited by these emigrés. Pamplona, which had previously been abandoned as a royal city, was divided into three neighbourhoods; the Navarreria was home to the native population, the Juderia was the Jewish quarter and the Burgo San Cernin was colonised by Franks encouraged to settle through generous grants and  prospective commercial prosperity.

Like Puente la Reina, Sanguesa was a town built beside an important river crossing used by pilgrims, in this case over the Rio Aragon. Originally, the inhabitants were located on a nearby promontory in the defensive enclave of Rocaforte. As the threat of Saracen incursions receded, they were able to move down to the river bank. In 1122 King Alfonso el Batallador had a bridge built, simultaneously granting a fuero to encourage new settlement. A parish church, Santa Maria la Real was constructed on the left bank at one end of the bridge. By the end of the century the town comprised two parishes, the second dedicated to Santiago and was now enclosed by city walls.

Sanguesa-V's-2-WPBetween the major stations of the road, small conurbations and hamlets developed along the route next to monasteries, churches and hospices.

Thus the pilgrimage was exploited to bring keenly sought prosperity to these long deserted regions. This led to the inevitable paradox. The new wealth ran counter to the very spirit of the pilgrimage. On the portal sculptures of the churches at Oloron and Sanguesa, two towns which had grown rich from pilgrim traffic, the sculpted images of the merchant and artisan classes are presented in the foreboding context of Apocalyptic scenes.

Should any doubts persist, the column relief of Judas at Santa Maria la Real, rope noose around his neck, was a grim indication of the inherent dangers which were posed.

Sources: J. Passini – Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques. Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa XXX 2000 pp.75-83, Melczer – The Pilgrims’ Guide to Santiago de Compostela

Leyre-V's-3The Historia Silense and the Cronica Najerense, two twelfth century monastic chronicles of Spanish history, both record that it was Sancho III el Mayor who around the year 1030 was the first Hispanic ruler to actively take a hand in the pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela.

Sancho, who ruled Navarre between 1004 and 1035 had expansionist interests in the lands of Castile and Leon to the west as well as Moorish held territory to the south.

As the Historia Silense tells us, the road used by pilgrims had traditionally passed through Alava, north of present day Vitoria, because pilgrims preferred to hug the protective shelter of the Cantabrian mountains. Estall-1The chronicle attributes the reconquest of the Rioja to Sancho el Mayor, although in truth, this was achieved during the reign of his great great grandfather, a century earlier. Nevertheless, as the Caliphate of Cordoba began to fragment, the opportunity to consolidate the Christian kingdoms of the north arose and Sancho was well positioned to take advantage of the prospect.

The Cronica Najerense is closer to the facts, recording that it was only some time after acquiring the protectorate of Castile in 1017 through some astute dynastic manoeuvering, that Sancho recognised the potential of the pilgrimage road as an artery which would connect  Navarre with the future Christian empire of Leon-Castile which he was to bequeath to his son Ferdinand and grandson Alfonso VI.

Mianos Texts record pilgrim traffic passing through Navarre already in the tenth century but a century later the flow had become significant enough to warrant the establishment of an infrastructure which might benefit both travellers to Compostela as well as commercial and political interests.

Specific privileges known as fueros were accorded by kings to townspeople. These prerogatives were designed to encourage commercial activity and repopulation of urban centres and land long deserted. Fueros were granted all along the pilgrimage road. In 1030 Sancho obliged pilgrims to pass through Najera, a city he had recently accorded a fuero and which was located fifty miles south of Alava. In 1052 Garcia V of Navarre founded the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria la Real there, together with a hostel for pilgrims at the town. Thus, Najera was established as a major station on the pilgrimage road to Santiago.

Sources: J. Passini – Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques. Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa XXX 2000 pp.75-83

Historia Silense. ed.  Francisco Santos Coco

LSJ-Calixtus-2-Authorship of the text of Book Five of the Jacobus, the so-called Pilgrim’s Guide is attributed to Pope Calixtus II and a certain Aimery and it’s colophon tells us that it was largely composed at the abbey of Cluny in Burgundy.

It goes without saying that such medieval attributions of authorship and provenance need to be treated with scepticism. The career of the Burgundian Calixtus, as a former monk of Cluny and eventual holder of the Papal throne did little to qualify him for the familiarity with the topography of northern Spain demonstrated by the text. Furthermore, Calixtus’ death in 1124 precludes him as the definitive author.

 Rio-PisuergaThe dates 1137, which marked the death King Louis VI of France and is referred to in the text and 1173, when the first known copy was completed, provide the time frame for the compilation of the Jacobus. According to the text, the cathedral of Compostela had already been under construction for sixty-three years at the time of King Louis’ death and building was still ongoing.

This close proximity of the text to the phenomenon it described is further evidenced by the mention of the continuing practice at Triacestela, Fromista-Corbels-1-WPof pilgrims gathering stones which they carried to Castaneda, eighty kilometres further on. These went into the making of the lime used in the construction of the cathedral, giving the modern reader a vivid sense of the contemporaneity of the text.

 It seems evident that the author had a firm grasp of the fine detail of the pilgrimage road, especially when one considers that Chapter III entitled “Of the names of towns on this road”, lists a total of fifty seven place names along the route. On this basis, an origin for the text of the Pilgrim’s Guide within the scriptorium of the cathedral of Santiago seems likely.

Biblio: J. Passini – Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques. Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa XXX 2000 pp.75-83, W. Melczer – The Pilgrims’ Guide to Santiago de Compostela

LSJ-Quatuor-3In the almost exclusively non-literate culture of the medieval world, the production of a manuscript answered a need to fix and define an oral tradition  simultaneously conferring the status of authenticity on the material contained within.

 The Jacobus, a compilation of writings devoted to the cult of the Apostle James, was such a document. However, it presents a radical departure from the general form of hagiographical texts which focussed on the vita, or life and death of the subject  and provided examples of their miraculous powers.

 Its five books do include a list of miracles but no Vita, perhaps because the legend of Saint James had early been established in apocryphal texts. Rather, the intentions of the authors seem to be twofold.

Leon-Zodiac-2-WPFirstly to legitimise the questionable notion that one of the Twelve Apostles was actually buried in northwestern Spain. This was addressed in Book Four’s History of Charlemagne and Roland, which fused the legend of Saint James’ shrine with the memory of Charlemagne, the most potent and revered of medieval icons.

 The second concern of the authors is with the pilgrimage itself, since in the case of Compostela more than any other medieval cult, the journey was as, if not more important than the goal itself. The nine chapters of Book Five, the so-called Pilgrim’s Guide, deal comprehensively with this subject.

The course of the pilgrimage road had long been be a contentious matter with powerful and sometimes competing forces at play.

Rio-Salada-3Before the establishment of Estella in 1090, the road passed along a series of monasteries between Villatuerta and Irache. Among these was the priory and pilgrim hospital of Zarapuz, belonging to the powerful abbey of San Juan de la Pena. The existence of the new town meant that the route now moved away from Zarapuz, to the detriment of San Juan, whose monks bitterly complained to no avail of the rights granted to Estella.

Similarly, the important monastery of San Millan de la Cogolla was not favoured when pilgrims were directed to Najera. The monks were obliged to go there to solicit pilgrims on the road to make a detour of nine miles to the remote abbey in the Sierra de la Demanda to visit the relics of their saint Emilianus whose cult was now forced into a comparative decline.

Iroz-Bridge-WP At the end of chapter III the author claims his intention is to provide information which will give pilgrims an idea of the expense involved in their prospective journey to Compostela. Yet in performing his task, the author has at the same time fixed the definitive route of the pilgrimage road to such a degree that this may actually have been his intended purpose behind the manuscript compilation.

 Variants of the pilgrimage road were not eradicated, but at some point in the middle of the twelfth century, the author of the Jacobus set down in writing what had partly been a growing popular tradition and partly the enforced will of royalty and the Church. It came to be known as the Camino Frances.

Biblio:  Passini – Sur le chemin de Saint Jacques. Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa XXX 2000 pp.75-83, W. Melczer – The Pilgrims’ Guide to Santiago de Compostela, Elias Valiña: The Pilgrim’s Guide To The Camino de Santiago